The actor and broadcaster, Sir Michael Palin says the number of church closures over the last decade is a source of great sadness. The Monty Python star is Vice-President of the National Churches Trust and is supporting its campaign to preserve church buildings :
“Churches remain a vital and much-loved part of the UK’s heritage and we can’t let them fall into neglect and disuse.
“There is hope. More and more churches are adapting to the modern world, providing not just spiritual comforts but a range of valuable services to local people such as food banks and youth clubs.”
But the NCT says the number of churches open and being used for worship has fallen from around 42,000 to 39,800 in the last ten years.
A shortage of funding to keep churches in good repair is a key factor leading to closure. Latest figures show that the Church of England will have to find £1billion to fund repairs to its 16,000 parish churches in the next five years.
Funding for the repair and maintenance of church buildings has to be found by congregations as is it not provided by central church authorities. This is particularly difficult for churches in deprived areas or for rural churches with few worshippers
Speaking to The Telegraph, Sir Michael said :
“I have never been devout in the sense of attending church, though I respect those with faith. What those crowds who protested outside cinemas about Life of Brian missed, however, was that it was a satire about how those in authority in religion had used Jesus’s teachings to manipulate people.
“I may describe myself as agnostic with doubts, but I have loved church buildings for as long as I can remember. So the fall in numbers of those open and being used for worship over the past decade from 42,000 to 39,800 is a cause of great sadness.”
“My father was obsessed by churches. It is one of the few things that he drilled into me that stays with me today. He was the grandson of a vicar in Herefordshire, and someone who loved church music.
“We went to church every Sunday in Sheffield, where I grew up. The church building reflected community life. It wasn’t purely worship; it was a focus point. That is what NCT is trying to bring back now.
“You can see city skyscrapers that are sometimes 100 feet tall but they are just big blocks. You don’t notice them and you have no feeling about them. When you see a tower or steeple rising up, by contrast, it gives you a totally different feeling.
“I would rather that we persuade people that church buildings still have a relevance to them today, even when many of us aren’t believers. There is a real danger that agnostics like me will take churches for granted, assume they will just always be there, and then one day we wake up to find them locked up and abandoned.”